How to set goals for employees (and why you should)

01 December 2022 Sharyn Waterworth

Untitled Design

​Just as the beginning of a new year is a common time for people to reset and reflect on their personal lives, it also often marks the beginning of a new chapter at work.

Because of this, employees might be considering asking for a promotion or resigning from their roles so they can advance their careers elsewhere. That’s why it’s the ideal time to bring your team together and create a plan for the year ahead.

Goal setting is known to re-engage employees and build loyalty. In fact, employees with goals are 3.6 times more committed to their company and 14.2 times more likely to be inspired at work.

Here are our expert tips for goal-setting with your employees.

Planning and goal setting: Why your employees need goals

Before 2022 slips away, ask your employees to consider what they’d like their next year or work to look like. Ask questions like:

  • What are their overall career goals?

  • What skills do they want to learn?

  • What work habits would they like to adopt/change?

  • What do they need from you to get there?

This shows your interest in their development, gives your team something to look forward to when they return to work in the new year and has been proven to improve performance by 10-25%.

Goal setting for employees: Team-based and individual

The end of the year is a great time to step back and ask your team for feedback, both individually and collectively.

Setting team-based goals give your employees a central, unifying mission. Suddenly, it’s not your employees versing each other. Their team isn’t their competition.

A team-based goal is usually a broader business goal you can all strive for together. For instance, your team might have the goal of improving client retention by 10%.

Individual goals might pertain to improving customer service skills through additional training, which will in turn help the team reach their broader goal of better client retention.

How to set goals for employees

  1. Make them SMART

I’m sure you’ve heard of this well-known acronym before, and there’s a reason it’s so widely used. Every goal you and your employees set together should work within this framework.

In case you need a refresh, SMART goals are:

Specific. Broad goals like “get better at X” can be overwhelming and hard to plan for. Specific goals will help narrow your employee's focus.

Measurable. Goals are only effective if you can track employee progression. How are you going to measure if your employee has successfully reached their goal?

Attainable. Goals should be challenging, yet attainable. If a goal is too big or too difficult, it’s easy for employees to become discouraged and unmotivated.

Relevant. Make your employee’s goals relevant to the company, team and their own career path/interests.

Time-based. Attach a date to your employee’s goals to keep them motivated. If too much time elapses, they may lose interest in their goal. If there’s not an adequate amount of time allocated to reach their goal, it could cause unnecessary stress.

  1. Align them with the company’s goals

What are the company’s goals for the next year? How can your team rise to the occasion? Is there a skill gap you believe a particular team member could help fill?

If your employees can see how they’re contributing to the “bigger picture”, research shows they’re more likely to be motivated, perform more effectively at work and have more accountability.

  1. Understand your employees’ strengths and weaknesses

It seems simple, and should perhaps go without saying, but in order to set SMART goals, you need to have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each of your team members.

Have an open dialogue with your employees and ask them to reflect on this. Their answers might surprise you, and your observations may surprise them.

Managing your employee performance: What’s next?

  1. Make sure your team has access to the resources and opportunities they need

Once you’ve set goals with each of your employees, make sure you’re offering the support, resources and opportunities each employee needs to achieve them.

For example: if one of your employees has said they’d like a mentor, you’ll need to arrange one. If you and an employee have agreed that they need to upskill in a particular area, you need to make sure you’ve got the budget and time to make this happen.

Make sure these goals CAN and WILL be put into action in the new year, so your employees aren’t left with empty promises or delayed starts upon their return.

The dedication you demonstrate to your employee's development directly impacts their perception of your company’s culture. If learning is an integral company value or one you’d like to foster, then now is the time to walk the walk.

To learn more about company culture, we encourage you to read the blog “Why the culture of your company is more important than you think”.

  1. Check in and monitor progress

Create milestones with your employees to help them tackle their goals in smaller, more achievable steps.

To monitor progress, and make sure they’re hitting these milestones, schedule meetings where you can discuss learnings and troubleshoot any problems. Your performance reviews should also be an opportunity to look more broadly at your employee's goals.

If you’d like more guidance on how you should conduct a performance review, head to our blog “How to conduct a performance review: The do’s and don’ts”.

As your team starts back and their development gets underway, their goals may grow or evolve. That’s okay - goals don’t have to be set in stone. The key to helping your employees reach their goals is by involving them in every conversation along the way.

Interested in more HR and recruitment insights? Click here to keep reading.